COMPTEL PLUS marks the first public appearance for the newly tapped president and CEO of the competitive industry’s association. Jerry James, a telecom veteran, and Matt Salmon, a former congressman, were tapped in December to share the role historically held by one. The two executives, who never met before this assignment, say the tag-team approach is not only workable but profitable, enabling the organization to do more to impact its members’ businesses than ever before.
“I think that by bringing on two people with separate skill sets you double your impact,” said Salmon, who will lead COMPTEL’s advocacy initiatives while James heads the business initiatives, such as membership, member services and conferences. “I think you will see a much more aggressive COMPTEL that will engage more quickly and more forcefully on issues that impact our members.”
James is the former president of Grande Communications and past chairman of COMPTEL. Salmon previously worked with the law firm Greenberg Traurig after serving in the U.S. Congress from 1995 to 2001.
The collaboration between the two men is underpinned by a shared history working the management track in the Bell System James at Southwestern Bell and Salmon at Mountain Bell. “The other thing we both understand is our whole job is to serve our members,” said James. “Our job is to make COMPTEL the most effective organization we can make it given the resources and talent of our staff on behalf of the competitive industry and our members. Thats our goal.”
Because James was the interim president and CEO for COMPTEL during the second half of 2007, the duo got a running start, building off plans James began at the end of last year. Between them, the executives have identified three overriding goals for 2008: increase and diversify membership, improve member services and become a more effective voice for the industry.
On the member recruitment front, James said COMPTEL will be working to win back members that have left, particularly on the supplier side, and to cultivate new member categories. “Weve identified what we think are some segments that we have partial representation in and we want to grow it more extensively,” James said, citing wireless, content and managed network services providers as examples of member types and supply chains the group hopes to attract.
James said COMPTEL’s value proposition to these prospective members is that the association, particularly through its conferences, is the industry’s marketplace. “They can come and meet potential customers as well as suppliers and network together about their particular business issues,” he said.
They also will enjoy additional member services as James and Salmon seek to expand the educational programs and perks of membership. In particular, James points to a planned series of regional workshops on technical or business issues as well as members-only Webinars on hot topics as examples. The association also is adding to its roster of partners offering discounted services to the COMPTEL membership. One illustrative example might be hotel/travel discounts.
Salmon will be spending his efforts to achieve the third goal raising COMPTEL’s voice. “We intend to create a much bigger footprint than weve had before,” he said, explaining that he intends to leverage the alliances he made while Arizona’s representative in Congress to expand the group’s influence on Capitol Hill. “My job now is to work with my friends and contacts and get them engaged on our issues,” he said, noting that many of these contacts are now committee chairs or even U.S. senators.
The advocacy effort will continue to be supported by staff, contracted lobbyists and members. As in years past, the members will be called upon to meet with key leaders on the Hill. “We also are planning on doing more out in the congressional districts as well,” Salmon said. “One of the things that I learned as a congressman is that your level of openness to ideas sometimes is more when you are home doing district work. You are able, as a congressman, to actually go out and tour a facility, a company that is in your district, and meet with the employees face to face and listen to them firsthand.”
Pressing policy issues include blocking Qwest’s forbearance petition and ensuring fair and reasonable special access rates, Salmon said. He also expects to engage the association on “virtually anything that deals with competitive forces within the industry and more specifically looking at that last-mile access.”